Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 9 July 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Alleged Issue of Abuse of Greyhounds: Bord na gCon
We will move to the next item on our agenda. We will deal with the RTÉ "Prime Time" programme last Wednesday week relating to alleged issues of abuse of greyhounds. I welcome from Bord na gCon, the Irish Greyhound Board, Mr. Frank Nyhan, chairperson, and Mr. Denis Healy, veterinary director. I thank them for appearing before the committee to discuss the recent media reports on the abuse of greyhounds. I apologise for dragging you in so late this evening but we had other issues earlier on.
I bring to your attention the fact that witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if you are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and you continue to so do, you are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of your evidence. You are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and you are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, you should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
Mr. Nyhan, I understand you will make the opening statement.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
I thank the committee for the invitation to attend today to discuss "RTÉ Investigates: Greyhounds: Running for their Lives" broadcast on 26 June. I am accompanied today by Denis Healy, veterinary director of the Irish Greyhound Board, and I wish to offer apologies on behalf of our chief executive, Gerard Dollard, who due to a long-standing commitment is unavoidably absent.
The Irish Greyhound Board unreservedly condemns the appalling practices evident on the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. They have no place in the greyhound industry or indeed in any area of activity involving animals. The welfare of the racing greyhound in Ireland is at the core of what the Irish Greyhound Board does. The Irish Greyhound Board, Bord na gCon, is the commercial semi-State body responsible for the control and development of the greyhound industry in the Ireland. The board was established under special legislation by the Government in 1958.
In the context of governance, there are seven board members as well as the chief executive officer, the chief financial officer and an executive consisting of a veterinary director, head of regulation and other executives. We have 238 employees and the industry has some 7,300 owners and is estimated to be worth approximately €300 million to the national economy.
Greyhound welfare is a top priority for the board and there is an ongoing proactive approach to ensure animal welfare standards are consistently high throughout the industry. All reported incidents of greyhound cruelty and neglect are investigation and where breaches of the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011 are identified appropriate action is taken.
Addressing the recent televised exposé on the treatment of greyhounds, it is right that RTÉ would highlight illegal behaviour and the sometimes-appalling and egregious treatment of animals as a matter of public interest. The Irish Greyhound Board fully subscribes to and supports such an approach. However, we believe it is incumbent on the national broadcaster to provide factual and properly contextualised information. Balance is also important and one glaring omission from the programme was the good practice and behaviour adopted by the significant vast majority of people involved in greyhound racing in Ireland as well as the stringent legislative and regulatory framework in place to ensure general compliance and, more important, animal welfare.
The Irish Greyhound Board co-operated with RTÉ and accommodated its requests to film at our various stadia. We responded to numerous freedom of information requests and editorial queries. We offered a live interview on the issues raised during the course of RTÉ's research. This offer was not taken up. We have requested a copy of all footage and documentation from RTÉ relating to the programme to enable us to follow up on any allegations of the mistreatment of greyhounds or breaches of statutory regulation. We are currently awaiting same.
In many cases the programme used historical or out-of-context footage to highlight past poor welfare practices. It did not reflect the wider industry or the significant reforms that have been introduced by the Irish Greyhound Board in the past decade. It disregarded the thousands of genuine greyhound owners who love their greyhounds and their racing. Arising from the programme, numerous issues and areas should be highlighted. In early 2017, as part of an examination of the IGB and its structures, a company, Preferred Results Limited, undertook an analysis of the greyhound pool, although this did not form part of the brief at the time. The analysis covered 2013 to 2015 as well as a detailed study of the 2009 greyhound pool. The analysis was based on estimates and assumptions and lacked any empirical evidence base. This arises from the absence of a traceability system for greyhounds, a point I will address later. The data assumes a total of 5,987 unaccounted for dogs and assumed that these dogs were culled. The board did not accept the analysis as it did not reflect issues in the industry at the time whereby it was proving exceedingly difficult to fill scheduled race cards with racing greyhounds. For clarity, the IGB does not accept that 5,987 greyhounds were culled.
The greyhound racing industry of 2019 is an entirely different place to the greyhound racing industry of 2009 given the extent of reforms that have been made within the sector. The euthanising of healthy greyhounds is not acceptable and the board has recently taken measures to prepare a statutory regulation requiring that the euthanising of a greyhound can only be undertaken by a veterinary practitioner. The responsibilities of the IGB relate solely to the racing greyhound. They do not extend to crossbreeds such as lurchers, which featured prominently in the programme. The programme highlighted erythropoietin as being prevalent in greyhounds. The last recorded instance of EPO by the Irish Greyhound Board was in 2005.
The board is aware of the historical cases of ear tampering featured in the programme, one from over a decade ago and one from 2013. In 2016, the IGB made it a regulatory requirement and a condition of entry that all greyhounds competing at licensed stadia were microchipped. This ensures all greyhounds are identifiable and, more important, linked to an owner. Reference was made to only one disqualification order for doping offences. Under the 2015 regulations introduced by the board a greyhound is automatically disqualified from racing when an adverse analytical finding is declared and the dog remains disqualified until a clear test, free from prohibited substances, is returned.
The IGB has made strong progress in the area of doping and medication. This is an issue for all sports but the enhanced regulation introduced by the IGB in 2015 and the successful defence of two High Court challenges to the IGB regulatory system in 2018 demonstrate that the current regime is robust. A total of 5,288 samples were analysed by the national greyhound laboratory located at the IGB offices in Limerick in 2018. I welcome the statistic outlined in the programme, if it is the case, that 80% of animal remedies seized by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine relate to the greyhound industry. This is testament to the regulatory and integrity framework we have worked hard to achieve and implement. We have received excellent co-operation from the agencies involved, especially the special investigations unit of Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine, which holds the regulatory powers on animal remedies. Inspections of premises have involved IGB personnel and the high level of seizures suggested in the programme sends a clear message to all that illegal substances or animal remedies are not tolerated within the greyhound industry.
The early morning meeting at Kilcohan Park Greyhound Stadium in Waterford was featured in the programme. It was presented that the addition of early morning meetings would further increase greyhound pools. This is incorrect. The early morning meetings substitute for existing meetings. Kilkenny now schedules racing on a Wednesday morning in lieu of Wednesday night and Kilcohan Park schedules racing for Thursday morning in lieu of the previously scheduled race meeting on a Friday night.
The programme outlined some appalling practices involving the treatment of animals allegedly in China. The footage in this case was disturbing and first appeared on the Internet in 2015. The practice was further reported in the Irish national media in 2016. The footage shown on the programme also displayed other breeds of dog. The practices outlined in the programme relating to live animals are absolutely abhorrent. Anyone who owns or who has ever owned a dog was sickened by what they saw. The clear position of the IGB is that export of greyhounds should only involve countries that have a strong animal welfare code. I am satisfied that the greyhound community in Ireland has been utterly shocked at such practices and has heeded the strong advice by the IGB regarding export of any animals to such countries. Neither the IGB nor any Irish regulator is responsible for the appalling attitude to wider animal welfare that may be evident in other countries. We will continue to do everything possible within our remit to prevent exports of greyhounds to countries that do not have acceptable animal welfare regimes. Ireland is not in a position to restrict exports to any country but must operate under EU law and wider world trade agreements.
In terms of the IGB spend on welfare, the false impression was given on the programme that €100,000 was the amount spent from the allocation of €16.8 million from the horse and greyhound fund. The €100,000 is a specific contribution that IGB makes to an special entity it has established to focus on the re-homing of Irish greyhounds, the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust. This contribution is additionally matched by a 2% contribution of winning owners' prize money, which derives from the horse and greyhound fund. In 2018, the total income of the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust was €242,000. This does not take into account the overall spend of the IGB on regulation and welfare matters, which was just short of €2 million in 2019. We continue to expand our welfare function as a priority area under our strategic plan for 2018 to 2022. A further full-time professionally qualified welfare officer was recruited in May 2019.
Since the airing of the programme, the board has met and agreed a range of additional measures to further enhance the welfare schemes already in place, including its fostering scheme, and to assure both the public and the wider and responsible greyhound community that we take issues of welfare very seriously. Any party aware of any breach of welfare regulation or any inadequate or inappropriate practices relating to greyhound welfare should report the matter to the IGB for full investigation. We have established a dedicated telephone line for that purpose.
Looking to the future, the board is in the course of implementing its strategic plan for 2018 to 2022 and at this point sees the key pillars to be progressed in the areas of care, ownership, breeding, regulation, doping and medication, stadia, tracks and exports. Today, I will focus on the area of care. Further work needs to be done to bring the care and welfare of the greyhound to the highest standard possible. Care and welfare are the priority in all activity relating to greyhounds. It is our intent, in accordance with the commitment in our strategic plan, to maintain animal welfare at the centre of our industry and, to that end, to devise a three-year transformative care plan for the industry. The primary responsibility for the care and welfare of any animal rests with its owner. The owner’s obligations in this regard must be reinforced and form a legal obligation for which the owner can be held accountable.
The passing of the Greyhound Racing Ireland Act 2019, for which this committee deserves great credit, provides a significant modernising of the legal framework and the first such overhaul since the Greyhound Industry Act 1958. A key provision of the Act relates to the introduction of a traceability system for the racing greyhound, which has been sought for some time by the IGB. In addition to the provision of a traceability system for the racing greyhound, the board is also promoting a number of proposals as a radical rearrangement of responsibility and oversight for the greyhound and the care and welfare of the racing greyhound. These are: increase sanctions and strengthen notification requirements to the Irish Coursing Club, ICC, as keeper of the stud book, to ensure that transfers of ownership are promptly notified at the time of the transaction occurring; in the medium term a differentiation needs to be made between coursing and racing greyhounds, as two separate bodies have responsibility for the two different types of greyhounds; provide for a levy at registration stage in the stud book to contribute towards a pension plan for the greyhound in retirement - all levies should be paid into a separate care fund to be established by the Irish Greyhound Board through a trust, with external appointees to monitor the care and welfare programme; a levy on attendance income, prize money and a percentage of all sponsorship to be paid into the care fund; and an immediate expression of interest process for the provision of greyhound care centres so that greyhounds can lead a healthy life after retirement - these centres will be funded from the care fund and a contribution from owners.
The IGB has secured an ever increasing number of re-homings through the direct activity of, and indirect supports provided by, its established trust, the Irish Retired Greyhound Trust. Some 1,021 re-homings were achieved in 2018. An initiative is at an advanced stage of discussion with Greyhound Pets of America, GPA, and Finding Loving Irish Greyhounds Homes Together, FLIGHT, which should secure a very significant increase in international re-homings. We propose engaging with the Minister on a set percentage of the horse and greyhound fund allocation being assigned to the separate care fund to cover the range of initiatives and actions I have outlined and which are set out in the three year transformative plan. Where it is necessary that a greyhound be put to sleep the euthanasia shall only be performed by a veterinary surgeon by the use of lethal injection. This requirement should be extended to all greyhounds, including coursing dogs, by way of an order under the powers contained in the Welfare of Greyhounds Act 2011. We have drafted such an order for the Minister's consideration. We have commissioned a full analysis of, and sought recommendations on, our industry footprint for the future. This analysis is currently being undertaken by Indecon Economic Consultants, which previously reported on the greyhound industry, and we expect that its report will be completed in the autumn.
In conclusion, I wish to strongly emphasise that the IGB is committed to strong regulation of the industry and to following up any breaches of welfare or regulation within the statutory framework available to us. There is no place for cruelty or poor animal welfare practices in the greyhound industry and we will continue to work with all agencies to eradicate such behaviour. We will endeavour to respond fully to queries from members of the committee and if any follow-up is required we will be happy to facilitate such requests.
I welcome the chairman and representatives of Bord na gCon. The programme we saw last Wednesday night week was very disturbing for those of us who love our greyhounds. Nobody who loves the sport of greyhound racing or the animals would support any of the practices seen on the programme. I watched it with a group of individuals and every one of us was horrified by what we saw. Those actions cannot be condoned. We are here to discuss the greyhound industry and Bord na gCon, but the programme definitely shook public confidence in the industry. I welcome the presentation by the chairman and the ongoing actions that are, and were, being taken by the board. Those actions did not start on the Wednesday night the programme was shown, but the board has a serious job of work to do now to restore public confidence in our industry and to show people that dogs are well looked after and cared for.
I will talk about RTÉ shortly. The vast majority of dog owners look after their dogs extremely well. However, to restore public confidence we must establish a database similar to the one we have for bovines. It must be a very accurate database and there can be no room for any errors in it, so that if an inspector visits a kennel, he will know there should be five, six, seven or eight dogs in the kennel because they are recorded and in a log book for that kennel. If a dog is moved on, sold or if it gets badly injured and has to be euthanised, all such actions will be reported within a period of seven days to the relevant authorities. That is essential. Figures that were mentioned in the programme are quoted in the chairman's statement, such as almost 6,000 dogs being unaccounted for. Mr. Nyhan said he does not agree with the figure, but the time has come where we must be able to account for the dogs properly and show the public exactly where dogs are. That must happen.
The export of dogs and the sale of dogs in this country keep the financial side of the business going. Without the export of dogs the industry would not be financially viable. This committee framed legislation in the last few months that went to the Dáil late in May. The Attorney General's advice to us at the time was that we could not control the export of dogs and that if a dog was sent to the UK we have no control over where that dog finally ends up.
This is an issue we will have to address. If a country to which a dog goes does not have the proper welfare standards, we must try to find some mechanism to stop animals reaching those countries. Department officials should visit countries - I am referring in particular to Pakistan - where there is a market for dogs and see what standards apply. If the standards in a particular country are not up to those that obtain here, we should try to find a mechanism to prevent the sale of dogs to that country. I do not know how this can be done legally but we will have an added complication because it seems a virtual certainty that the UK will be outside the EU in a couple of months. How can we impose our will on the dog owners of the UK? The latter has a very good record as regards animal welfare in general and I would hope that through negotiations with the relevant authorities in the UK, a mechanism might be introduced to control or ban the export of dogs to countries where welfare standards are not up to standard.
One of the disturbing aspects of the television programme related to dogs being dragged into a knackery and then shot. As has rightly been stated, that has no place in the industry. If a dog has suffered a serious injury and needs to be euthanised, it has to be done under the control of a vet. There are no circumstances where we can condone putting down a healthy dog. That is something everyone in the industry accepts. Increased money has gone towards welfare in the past number of years but in the report, I see that percentages of different sources of income will be devoted to the care of greyhounds. This is a step forward. Our guests have provided figures regarding the money that has been spent up to now but there could be a levy on various income sources. Most of our greyhound stadia have restaurants, many of which have service charges for different things. There should be a levy charged in respect of the entertainment in those hospitality units in order to provide extra funding for the welfare fund that needs to be put in place. Our guests also stated that they want to ring-fence a percentage of the €16 million the Exchequer provides for the industry for dog welfare. All those points should go a long way towards restoring public confidence.
A couple of weeks ago, officials from the Department appeared before us to discuss cruelty to horses and dogs. Animal welfare relates to more than greyhounds. Earlier today, we discussed the responses we received from the Department concerning the welfare of horses. Unfortunately, there are plenty of issues there. There are many instances of cruelty to horses. Again, the legislation that is there must be complied with. Regarding dog welfare, illegal hunting is happening and is a serious animal welfare issue. There are groups of people who go around the country with bands of lurchers and who have no respect for other animals. This matter also needs to be addressed. We have been told that the legislation is there to allow gardaí and dog wardens to stamp it out but, unfortunately, the resources are not there. This is an issue that also needs to be highlighted. There are people who have no respect for law and order who are marauding throughout the countryside and engaging in illegal activity. That has to be eradicated immediately.
The integrity of the sport has received a lot of media attention. As stated earlier, the legislation that passed through the Houses of the Oireachtas in May will hopefully allow us to enforce the regulations that exist. There have been a few cases whereby the dogs of high-profile people in the industry were found with a substance in them and the penalties one would expect to see imposed were not imposed. The programme broadcast the other night named one prominent trainer and stated that there were two other cases before the courts. It is essential for the integrity of the industry that anyone found guilty of having a prohibited substance should face the full rigours of the law. There can be no place in the sport for people who dope greyhounds. One man mentioned in the programme was found in possession of a large number of illegal substances. I presume this must go through the criminal process. Everyone is entitled to a trial and I am not taking that away from any individual but if that individual is found guilty, there must be very severe penalties for him or her. We need lengthy bans and lengthy suspension because we have had high-profile cases. The previous law dated back to 1958 and was not strong enough to enforce the regulations but we have passed fresh legislation and the public expects and demands that anyone who has been found guilty of acts of doping will be dealt with fully, suffer suspension and be put outside the gates of the sport. We have seen that happen in our horse-racing industry whereby high-profile trainers who were found with illegal substances on their premises suffered lengthy suspensions. The same thing must happen in the greyhound industry.
Regarding balance in the programme, when footage is being shown, the one thing one would see is the date on which that footage was shot. I thought it strange that the programme did not state on which date the activities shown in that footage happened. Leaving that aside, the activities shown in the footage took place regardless of whether they were recent or they happened ten or 12 years ago. They happened so we cannot argue with that. In the interests of fairness, the time when they happened should have been stated in the programme.
The other aspect about which I was disappointed in the context of balance was the fact that Bord na gCon was denied the opportunity to contribute to the programme. In any programme, in order to get a fair balanced view, both sides should get a fair hearing. It was unfortunate that this did not happen. I am a dog owner and enjoy my sport but I want to be part of a sport that can hold its head up high and say it is run correctly and that welfare issues and integrity are addressed fully. Over the past couple of years, the board has been advancing issues but the programme has highlighted areas where improvements need to be made. The database must be set up and must be foolproof. We must ensure that the legislation enacted in May ensures that people who breach the rules of the game face the full rigours of the law. I would like the industry to enter into discussions with the UK authorities to see whether it is possible for the UK to prevent the export of dogs to countries where standards are not the same as our standards.
As I said, the lifeblood of our industry is the sale of our dogs to the UK. If that was prohibited, the industry would not be financially viable. That is not an option. The UK's record as regards welfare standards are so high that it should be possible to get it to bring in legislation that would prevent dogs from going to countries where standards are not up to what we would demand.
I thank Mr. Nyhan and the others for coming in. I have to say that in 27 years of service in the Dáil I have never had such a reaction conveyed to me by members of the public and, indeed, some of my colleagues, including Deputy Kelly, registering their deep disgust and annoyance at the contents of that RTÉ programme. It was an important public service broadcast by the station. There was a bit of a deficit - in fairness, Mr. Nyhan referred to it as a failure to give Bord na gCon or other interested stakeholders a right to deal with some aspects which might have been helpful - but one could not negative or neutralise the main thrust of the programme. The practices that were revealed in "RTÉ Investigates" were horrific and abhorrent and have to be condemned with vehemence and equivocation. It defies description the disgraceful treatment of greyhounds and animals we have seen. Of course, the welfare and care of the greyhounds has to be at the top of everyone's agenda. It is not an afterthought and has to be an absolute priority.
All illegal behaviour has to be rooted out. I stated here on the previous occasion on behalf of the parliamentary Labour Party that we have always supported the granting of moneys for the horse and greyhound industries, but we certainly will be reserving our position in terms of the greyhounds from hereon in. It is not a decision taken lightly. We are rural people. We know how important it is. It involves funding of €16.8 million, as I have said previously. Including the €68 million, there is €84 million in funding between the two sectors. There would be many children out there who cannot get orthodontic treatment. There are many people out there who cannot get any services for children, for instance, a school bus service, and that money would go a long way. We are getting to the point where these questions are being asked by members of the public and we have an fiduciary obligation to raise issues. I stated when we were here discussing the Greyhound Racing Bill 2018, which I made a significant input into with my colleagues, that I thought this sector was dancing at the Last Chance Saloon. I note this programme would certainly say that maybe it has passed the Last Chance Saloon. All illegal behaviour has to be rooted out without fear or favour. It does not make any difference wherever it falls. Those who act in a disgraceful and abhorrent way have to be rooted out. It is impossible to see how a dog or any animal could be subject to such acts of barbarity.
As I said, we spent a long time dealing with welfare and probity in the Bill. The focus was on welfare and probity, and integrity. Indeed, governance has to be a priority. There are many people in Mr. Nyhan's sector. There are nearly 240 full-time employees. That is a lot of employees looking after 7,300 owners. Surely, there has to be a tracking and tracing mechanism. I note Bord na gCon is bringing forward traceability, identification, etc. Deputy Cahill is correct. Every bovine animal can be tracked from here to Buenos Aires and until we get to that point in this sector, there will be questions to answer and Mr. Nyhan and his board and all those top people who seem to cost a right few quid have a job to do. If they do not do it, they will find people in here saying the €16.8 million will not be going Bord na gCon's way.
Those deficits and defects and all those abhorrences and cruelties have been identified. If any aspect of the law has become apparent since the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 was passed - it was only signed by the President in May - it should be identified quam celerrime. Bord na gCon should let us know. There should be no hiding place for anybody who dopes greyhounds, acts the maggot or is found in possession of illegal substances, and there should be significant penalties and fines. If the legislation does not provide for them, they should be provided for irrespective of the identity of the transgressor. The transgressor will get his or her day in court. If one puts a fines and punishment regime in place, deterrence is a critical aspect of all of this.
I note Mr. Nyhan stated that 80% of animal remedies seized by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine relate to the greyhound industry and this is testament to the regulatory framework. Of course, I take that point, but I put it to him that the converse is also true. Eighty per cent is arriving from the one area. That means that 20% of animal remedies must be arriving from the other sources, which are significant. There are over 1 million animals in the other sources. Mr. Nyhan states we have only 7,300 owners in this area and we get 80%. While I take Mr. Nyhan's point that it indicates a degree of significant regulatory and integrity work, the other aspect is there is somebody with some sort of substance - remedies, drugs or whatever - who is transgressing. That is a horrific statistic.
I raised the issue of exports here. Indeed, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan was here and we raised it, and pushed it and pushed it. What worries me about officials is that it did not matter how hard we pushed. The contents of that programme in relation to China and Macau was available months prior to the Bill coming here. It was real evidence, not some airy-fairy stuff. It was there and we should have taken a lead. I accept one can talk about European law but somebody has to take a lead. The European Commission comes forward with all sorts of stuff. We do not like some of it but we are loaded up with it. We should have taken a lead in putting in place strong legislation to prevent the exports to countries which have appalling and grewsome welfare records and practices. I was disappointed with that. That was one aspect of the Bill with a significant lacuna. Where it is proven that there are welfare regimes that, at best, one could not describe as in accordance with welfare priorities or that are barbaric at times, nothing should prevent the application of appropriate legal protections for the welfare of the dog, greyhound or whatever. We could widen that to any animal. That is a lacuna in the law that has to be brought back here and tackled straightaway. The Government has to step on the matter and get the Attorney General on it.
In this report, Mr. Nyhan has made his pitch. In fairness, it is well made and well put out there. However, a few months ago, my colleague, Deputy Martin Kenny, raised a number of issues in terms of this report that was prepared for Bord na gCon by Preferred Results Limited. One of the problems the sector has is that it is always reactive. It is always reacting to some crisis or other rather than being proactive. That has all the signals of somebody being asleep at the wheel. We worked on the Greyhound Racing Bill 2018. It was here for the guts of three years. As far as I can remember, in 2016, we started to kick this about during Deputy Andrew Doyle's time here. Deputy Doyle is now a Minister of State. Bord na gCon should have been ready to hit the press button the minute the Bill was signed by President Higgins. Bord na gCon had to wait and as soon as this came out, the board was away out of the traps.
I wish to return to an issue that exercises my colleague, Deputy Kelly, who is quite sharp on these matters. When the Irish Greyhound Board commissioned the report by Preferred Results Limited, did the witnesses or their predecessors inform the Department that it was being commissioned? When did the Department see the report? The report seems to have had a significant input into the "Prime Time Investigates" programme. When was it finalised? More importantly, when did the Department see it? When did the board tell the Department about it? The statement provided outlines "Preferred Results Ltd ... undertook an analysis of the greyhound pool, although this did not form part of the brief at the time". What brief was given to Preferred Results Limited? What analysis was it asked to undertake? What was it charged with doing? What aspects of the industry was it invited to examine?
According to Mr. Nyhan, a small part of the report went outside the brief. The minute it did so, the board threw the report in the bin. It commissioned the report to clear things up after it sold Harold's Cross. How much did the report cost? The board commissioned a report which cost money and then threw it in the bin. Reports are prepared every day of the week for people within the Oireachtas and elsewhere in the country. If they do not like an element of the report, they do not throw it in the bin. Rather, they publish it.
Bord na gCon is in a different position from a private company, although such companies are accountable to their shareholders. A big shareholder of Bord na gCon, albeit not nominated, is the Irish taxpayer, who paid for the report and is entitled to see its contents. Why was the report commissioned and not published even if the board disagreed with it? The only figure with which the board disagrees relates to the almost 6,000 dogs that are unaccounted for. Of course, that is a reflection on everyone involved because there is no system of identification or tracing, etc. These are important issues on which we must get answers in order to support further moneys going to the greyhound industry. They form part of the €16.8 million allocation of funding. We must find out how much the report cost and why it was not published.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
On the 80:20 split, my understanding is that the 80% comes almost entirely from one seizure initiated by a report from the Irish Greyhound Board to the relevant officials of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. That is how the seizure occurred which accounts for the majority of the 80%. It is because of the proactive role of officials of the Irish Greyhound Board that the figure is 80:20.
I understand the Preferred Results Limited report cost in the region of €125,000. It was commissioned and delivered in 2017. The Department was informed of the report in May of this year. The report was intended to address the organisational structure of the Irish Greyhound Board and did so. The part of the report that went outside that brief is in respect of a dog pool analysis. We did not agree with or understand the conclusions reached by Preferred Results Limited in that respect. Frankly, we think it is wrong. It analysed a dog pool from 2013-15 but used breeding figures from 2009, which figures are incorrect.
A reply to a parliamentary question states that the Department "was aware in 2017 that the interim CEO of Bord na gCon, who was in place at that time, had commissioned an in-depth business model analysis of the organisation". The Department was aware of the report.
I am referring to a question asked on 3 July 2019. The reply states: "My Department was aware in 2017 that the interim CEO of Bord na gCon, who was in place at that time, had commissioned an in-depth business model analysis of the organisation."
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
He asked for it. I will return to the questions of Deputy Cahill. On traceability, we discussed this issue when we appeared before the committee approximately two years ago and sought its help in terms of the drafting of the Greyhound Racing Bill 2018. We had identified a problem in regard to the traceability of greyhounds. The proposed system enabled by the legislation is a shared database between the Irish Greyhound Board, the Irish Coursing Club and the Greyhound Board of Great Britain. The intention is that each of the parties will have access to the database and that there will be a statutory requirement on persons to update all life information relating to a greyhound on the database. It will be initiated by the microchipping of a greyhound, which is a statutory requirement, and thereafter it will follow what we believe is the gold standard, namely, traceability for cattle, insofar as possible, with all events having to be recorded within a statutory timeframe on the database.
We require the co-operation of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain as a result of the transfer of greyhounds between Ireland and Great Britain. We hope that by having it involved in the database, we will be able to identify dogs that turn up in other jurisdictions and identify the persons who sent them there. The indications from Great Britain are that it will co-operate in excluding such persons from membership in its organisations. That is the plan in that regard.
On the levy, the intention is to raise approximately €1 million in a year from a levy on members and all functions, including those identified by the Deputy such as social functions that take place on greyhound tracks. This initiative comes from greyhound owners. I have attended greyhound tracks and meetings since the programme in question was broadcast. People are anxious that there be an initiative. The levy is the source of that initiative. The sum of €1 million will be raised by a levy of approximately 10% and an increased fee on the naming of greyhounds, which will require the co-operation of the ICC. I do not think the latter will be an issue.
On integrity, the Irish Greyhound Board is as satisfied as it can be with the current integrity regime. Each year, approximately 5,000 tests are carried out on greyhounds, including before racing, after racing, in their kennels and unannounced. Of those tests, approximately 0.4% return an adverse analytical finding, which is a very small number of dogs.
All adverse analytical findings are reported and referred to the independent committee for adjudication. If the committee looks, as I know it does, at the results of the classics in greyhound racing for the past two seasons, it will see that they were all won by different greyhound trainers, large and small. The first three dogs in this year's English Greyhound Derby were all Irish owned and trained. They were tested in Ireland and England and there were no adverse findings. Insofar as we can be, we are satisfied with the integrity of the system.
Mr. Denis Healy:
I will expand on what Mr. Nyhan said. On traceability, a greyhound microchip scanning project is well on the way to completion. It is almost developed at this stage. It is very advanced. The benefit of the project is, as Deputy Cahill mentioned, our officers will be able to go into establishments that have greyhounds to make welfare inspections. They will have a list of the greyhounds that should be on the premises because they should be on a database. Equally, the system will be able to record what sampling was undertaken to test for substances, whether prohibited substances or substances for therapeutic use. The database will also be able to track the treatment records, as well as racing and trial history. In reality, what is achievable - it will require a lot of work, but it is achievable - is the provision of a lifetime record for every event in a dog's life. It will extend from microchipping, marking, racing, sale, export and transfer all the way until such time as the dog is given away for nothing on retirement and eventually put to sleep or dies a natural death.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
Yes, it is. We have been given the tools to do what we need to do. We had a meeting last Thursday with officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Commencement orders are needed for the legislation and we are discussing with the officials a schedule of the relevant orders and actions required.
Mr. Denis Healy:
I thank the Oireachtas Members who put a lot of work into the legislation. The Irish Greyhound Board now has powers to make regulations dealing with the health and welfare of greyhounds. That is something we did not have. We also have powers to make regulations for the administration of funds. Funds can be ring-fenced after consultation with the Minister. It will include making provision for the rehoming of greyhounds. There is now no excuse for not getting this right because the powers are available. It is a case of doing it.
My two colleagues have made lengthy presentations on the RTÉ "Prime Time" programme broadcast on 26 June. It was a significant broadcast which shed light on the unfortunate procedures shown to occur in the industry. Some of the procedures went back years and were without a shadow of a doubt unfortunate. We had hoped the industry had moved away from financial issues and into a new era. The programme damaged the industry in the public's eye and we have seen reaction to it in the past two weeks. I want to ask Mr. Nyhan about the reaction at dog tracks from the public and sponsors and the feedback from owners. How damaging has the two-week period been to the industry?
We hope the new legislation and new financial position will give the industry a new lease of life. What changes are required to move forward? What do we need to do to ensure we can bring public support back to the industry?
I ask the Chairman to look again at the traceability statement, what he said about traceability and how it is proposed it will work. It will be one of the key factors in bringing energy back into the industry.
From a bovine perspective, the website of the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, is one with which all of us here are familiar. It has a national, rather than an international, remit. It was stated that, in the case of greyhounds, the database might have an international remit, particularly in the context of cross-Border traceability. If we are to have that traceability in the industry, do we need to have one organisation to cover both jurisdictions, namely, Ireland and the United Kingdom? How would it tie-in? What thoughts does Mr. Nyhan have on how traceability can be tied-in between the two jurisdictions?
I thank the delegates for the presentation. It was mentioned that a request had been made for clarity on some issues raised in the RTÉ programme. I think a request was made for a copy of the footage and documentation, but they have not been received two weeks later. Is Mr. Nyhan concerned about this? What legal powers does the Irish Greyhound Board have to deal with the mistreatment issues raised in the programme? Where do the regulations of the board stand in dealing with them? Where does the board go when it receives this information? Will it pass it on to the relevant authority to investigate? Is it the authority that will investigate? Two weeks after the programme was made, will Mr. Nyhan elaborate on what the board will do when it receives the information?
Turning to the differences in the data, 5,987 dogs were unaccounted for. That is a large number that rings in the brain. The programme graphically depicted treatment that was cruel. It gave the impression that the dogs were destroyed, unfortunately. Is it possible to break down the data? Mr. Nyhan stated data from 2009 had been used in tying the figures together. As I might be wrong about that, I ask the him to clarify the position. I think, however, that the programme was looking at events in 2013 and 2015, but the data used were from 2009. It seems amazing that in putting the story together data were used that were four years old compared to the greyhound pool being examined.
Other issues such as sampling have been covered. I have a basic question about how it is proposed that the new care fund will work. Will legislation be required or is the legislation that has been passed strong enough to enable the Irish Greyhound board to have such a care trust? Where does the board sit on the legislation? Does the legislation need to be re-examined by the Houses of the Oireachtas to tie in that aspect or does it give the board the power to tie everything together? If this matter does fall back onto the desk of the board, how long would it take to put such a proposal in place in order that we would have some clarity on the care trust proposal?
Most of what I was going to ask about has been covered by Deputies Cahill and Penrose. This is repetitive, but on the horrific issues raised by the RTÉ programme, when we sit back, look at it logically and seek constructive solutions, we have to return to the issue of traceability.
If there was a proper system of traceability, dogs would not go missing and there would not be illegal exports. Traceability of dogs is the key problem. Mr. Nyhan stated in his report that Bord na gCon will concentrate more on this. With bovine animals, their births are registered and every movement until their death is recorded. Has Bord na gCon the manpower and technology to handle this, particularly considering the number of dogs involved? What onus is on an owner to register a litter of pups? Is there a time by which an owner must have all the pups registered? If there is, how is it policed? If it is not, why is that the case? Can an owner wait to see how the pups are maturing to get an inkling of how they might be before registering them? That would be vitally important. For example, calves have to be registered within two weeks. Should that be the same with greyhounds? Will Bord na gCon be able to enact what it is proposing?
The Greyhound Racing Act was only signed by the Minister in May. If that had been enacted in 2014, what would have been different on the programme we viewed last week? What could have been changed?
Bord na gCon advertised recently for two stipendiary steward welfare officers. I am led to believe only one was employed. There always had been three and there are currently only two. In light of what we saw on the recent television programme, does Bord na gCon feel the three stipendiary stewards should have been maintained? Will this be addressed? What action is Bord na gCon proposing to take in this regard?
I thank the delegation for attending the committee this evening. What is the freefone helpline number mentioned earlier? The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has a helpline for people who wish to talk in confidence about animal welfare issues. Is a licence required to exports greyhounds to, say, China? What is the procedure that somebody must go through to export a greyhound? Are trainers licensed? How does one become a trainer? Bord na gCon stated it has a new race management system which was put in place last October. How is it working? Has it been evaluated? There has been some public discourse about the withdrawal of sponsorship from greyhound racing. How will this impact on the business?
How do we prevent dogs being doped? Does a dog have to get blood tests in advance of a race? Is it detection such as checking a greyhound suddenly whizzing around the track after having failed miserably over the past six months? Is there a way of preventing doping before a dog ever goes near a track?
There was a reference to lurchers in the presentation and that Bord na gCon’s responsibilities do not extend to them. Does Mr. Nyhan feel the television programme dragged Bord na gCon into the lurcher scenario? How are greyhounds identified as being microchipped? It is a regulatory requirement. Is it checked at every race meeting?
The report from Preferred Results Limited highlighted the industry was failing from a commercial and regulatory point of view. What is Bord na gCon’s response to that?
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
The industry has been damaged in the public eye over the past two weeks. Anybody who owned a dog or other animal and watched the television programme in question would have been horrified. Most people at this meeting are probably dog owners. I own basset hounds. Anybody whoever owned a dog would have been horrified by what they saw on the programme. Insofar as that relates to the greyhound industry, it is, of course, damaged.
The manifestation of the damage has been seen through the withdrawal of a number of high-profile sponsors, which has been on the news. It is understandable why people would withdraw their sponsorship. Fortunately, that has been confined to several sponsors. A large number of other sponsors stayed on board.
We are talking to sponsors about a changed model of sponsorship. Essentially, we are going to invite sponsors to become involved in the care aspect of the industry. Any sponsorship that we get from sponsors in that regard will go towards the care of greyhounds. The prize fund will be separate from that. Due to the model the industry uses, the withdrawal of sponsorship affects owners and trainers because the sponsorship money goes straight to them. The loss of that money is a loss for them in that regard. We would hope that with today and other meetings we might possibly stem that tide.
We will have a meeting with the British authorities later in July to discuss the question of traceability. The new traceability model will require the co-operation of the Irish Coursing Club and ourselves. I do not anticipate any difficulty in that regard because both bodies are addressing this question. We would hope that we have the manpower and technology to implement the traceability system. What it requires is joined-up thinking rather than any massive investment in terms of people or technology. The current system, whereby some life incidents are reported to one agency while others to another, just does not work. There is an appetite among all the relevant bodies to get this done in a short time. The meeting with the UK authorities is this month. I would expect that, by September, we will be in a position to lay out how this is going to happen. It should be happening in and around then.
The Preferred Results report analysed the figures from 2013, 2014 and 2015 but used the figures for litters from 2009 and extrapolated forward. What happened was that there was a decline in the number of litters between 2009 and 2013. We were in the middle of an economic recession at the time. The basis was incorrect. To be fair, Preferred Results could never have got that correct because there are too many instances where there was no proper recording of greyhounds for anybody to be able to do that exercise properly at the time.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
At the moment, there are 3,600 greyhounds in the country. In 2018, there were 2,344 litters. We send about 6,500 greyhounds to England every year.
There are about 2,000 greyhounds coursing. Those are the current figures.
On the question on the disciplinary steward, I do not know the answer. It is an executive function but I will find out for the Senator. I would not have disagreed with the Senator in that I would have believed we should have our full regulatory team in place now.
With regard to current reporting methods, there is a statutory requirement on people to report life events with greyhounds but there is no proper method of detecting whether they have done it. Generally, by the time it is established that they have not, it is too late to prosecute them. The current regime does not work in that respect. Quite a few of the on-the-spot fines handed out by our stewards are for failures to report the change of ownership of a greyhound, for example. They are not being issued often enough and they are not large enough to-----
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
Under the new Act, we have much more authority to increase the fines. We have the overriding authority under the new Act to impose very heavy penalties on those who bring our industry into disrepute. I refer to their future involvement in the industries. The members can take it that we will be using those powers. I will not specify any particular person or event in that regard. Where we are given the powers, we intend to use them.
Mr. Denis Healy:
It is all well and good talking about traceability but unless the regime is enforced, it is useless. To answer Deputy Corcoran Kennedy's question, pups of 12 weeks of age or greater are microchipped. This is recorded in a database. Let us say a Mr. Cahill has a bitch that has six pups and they are recorded on the system. Twelve months later, they must be registered on the racing management system, RMS. This is when the Irish Greyhound Board first has a record of them. We have the manpower to check the record. If we have information that Mr. Cahill started out with six pups and registered only three on the racing system, we can ask about the remaining pups. If we see from the system that dogs are missing, we can go to Mr. Cahill and ask him to explain what happened them. He is required to inform the Irish Coursing Club within 14 days of a transfer of ownership, movement or death. If it is not done within the relevant period and we investigate the matter, which we do, we can serve a fixed penalty notice. That is very doable.
To answer Deputy Corcoran Kennedy's other question, the microchipping is done. It is required beyond 12 weeks of age. Some 95% to 96% of the microchipping is done by officers, control committee stewards. They are officers in the employ of the Irish Coursing Club. We can say we have control over 96% to 97% through the Micro Dog ID database. There are one or two other national databases. If a vet microchips, it may be reported through the vet's system. There is still 100% access. That is the baseline.
With regard to the knackeries, Senator Daly asked who has the legal powers. I worked in agriculture for 20 years. Currently, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine enforces the animal by-products regulations. It oversees the disposal of animal by-products. Greyhounds are category 1 material. They can be disposed of only in a certain fashion. It is up to the Department to ensure euthanised greyhounds are disposed of in the fashion in which they are required to be disposed.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy asked about the methods of detection. Essentially, urine testing is the standard method of detecting drugs in greyhounds. On occasion, there is blood sampling but generally there is urine testing. This is done either before or after a race, or on a kennel visit. If anything about the running of a dog causes concern for the stewards at the meeting, they can ask for additional testing. That is how it is done.
Mr. Denis Healy:
I will add to that. We have a quite close working relationship with the special investigation unit in the Department. In the employ of the Irish Greyhound Board is an integrity officer, a retired Garda detective. We act on intelligence. A very high-profile case made the news some two or three years ago. I can say it was in County Kilkenny because it is in the public domain. As a result of intelligence from our colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the premises in question was visited as part of a joint inspection. The Irish Greyhound Board targeted greyhounds there for sampling. What was found was a prohibited anabolic steroid, Stanozolol, which I call the Ben Johnson anabolic steroid.
There is what is called a MIDAS working group. It meets two or three times per year to share intelligence. It is shared by officers from the Department and Irish Sports Council, the head of the State Laboratory, the head of the Irish greyhound laboratory, the head of regulation in the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board and the chief veterinarian in the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board. I could go on. The shared intelligence is not published because it is intelligence but it is used to target suppliers of products for both racing industries. We have done so. The medicines found in the greyhound kennels were found because excellent intelligence was shared.
Mr. Denis Healy:
Deputy Corcoran Kennedy asked about sampling. There is random sampling at every racetrack every night there is racing. For the competitions, we sample before and after races, perhaps targeting all the competitors. In fact, in the week before the finals or semi-finals of major competitions, there are visits and sampling at the premises of the greyhound owners, including on Sunday mornings. The visits are unannounced.
Mr. Denis Healy:
Yes. That is outside our remit. The Department issues what are called Balai certificates. There are health certificates, and the animals have to have certain vaccinations.
For example, a rabies vaccination is mandatory. All of that is certified by departmental officials.
I will allude to the new Act. Under the existing export of animals regulations, there is no requirement to record anything other than the fact that it is a canine. It could be a shih tzu, an Irish wolfhound, a greyhound or a lurcher, but there is nothing on the tracking animal certification for export, TRACE, to say that. Under the new Act, we will be able to have a regulation requiring that the breed be recorded. If, for example, 200 or 2,000 dogs are exported next year, we will be able to record how many are greyhounds, as that information will be required.
I am always glad to acknowledge positives, and there were positives in the delegation's statement, but I take issue with the implication that, before the 2019 Act, a lack of regulation allowed all of this abuse and neglect to happen and the industry was under no obligation to care about greyhounds, and now that there is this regulation, the industry will care about them. Breaches of the few regulations that were in place had been brought to the IGB's attention over the years, but very little was done about them. In some cases, nothing was done. Can the IGB be trusted to do the work now in respect of animal cruelty that it allowed to continue?
I will cite a couple of examples. One dog tested positive three times for cocaine, yet it was invited to the night of stars. The same dog was nominated for greyhound of the year. Breaches of sales regulations were brought to the IGB's attention down the years. On the export of greyhounds, I point the witnesses to a letter that the IGB received in 2016 that referred specifically to nine Irish-registered greyhounds that arrived in separate shipments in Macao. It also referred to another attempt to export 24 greyhounds from Cork to China via Heathrow, but they were turned back at Heathrow because of the poor conditions in the cages as well as other concerns. The ISPCA, the Dogs Trust and the Irish Blue Cross had made statements that any dog going to China would face certain death. I do not hold with the claim that we cannot stop them from going to China. Other countries do, for example, Italy, France, Australia and the US. They do not export their dogs to countries that do not have animal welfare regulations. The IGB was informed of these exports at the time, but we did not even get a letter of condemnation about it, never mind see anything being done.
In another incident, there was a fine of €800 for an owner because of forgery and failure regarding transfers of ownership, yet nothing has been mentioned about the fact that it had been brought to the IGB's attention that that owner had allowed his greyhounds to be shot and dumped. He would not reveal to the IGB the name of the person who carried out the shooting, yet that same man was licensed to race greyhounds in 2016. These are not isolated cases.
I acknowledge the welfare groups that, through their own fundraising, have been picking up the pieces where unwanted greyhounds and other animals are concerned.
Injured greyhounds are being given medication to continue racing. Requests to the witnesses' organisation for information on same were refused until a newspaper gave the details of the IGB's knowledge of these injured greyhounds being made to run.
Issues like these have been brought to the IGB's attention down the years. I do not accept that a lack of regulation means cruelty to greyhounds should be allowed to continue, yet that is what has happened. The terrible irony is that, if the IGB and other organisations had acted at the time, that programme might never have been made. It is great that the IGB is acting now, but look at what it took. Animals were cruelly abused in the meantime because of a lack of action.
I wish to ask about the board and the application process. Are there people on the board who voluntarily give of their time to the welfare of greyhounds? I heard from one person who had tried to submit an application on which he had stated that the reputation of the industry and the welfare of dogs were his priorities. He did not even get an interview. Maybe the board receives hundreds of applications, but I was taken aback by that. I am concerned about the composition of the board.
The witnesses might clarify something about the €16 million plus. Were there ever cuts to that funding in the past eight or nine years?
I am surprised by the low detection rate of illegal substances, but we know from other situations how these substances can be screened. The low rate is unusual, to put it mildly. I am also bemused that, if a dog tests positive for cocaine or something else, the dog cannot race, yet not much seems to happen to its owner. He or she continues in his or her activities.
The programme was mentioned, but my understanding is that the IGB was not denied an interview. Rather, it was told that the programme had been prerecorded and it was given an opportunity to prerecord an interview. The witnesses might like to clarify that issue.
The IGB has a great plan for re-homing and looking after unwanted greyhounds, but it is short on detail about how that will be done. In the meantime, organisations, some of which have been in existence for many years, have been dealing with unwanted greyhounds through their own fundraising. Since the programme, one of them has been inundated with calls from owners who do not want their greyhounds anymore. There is severe pressure on the organisation, but when it turned to the IGB for some funding, it was denied. We know what the cost is. How will the IGB carry out its plan and why is it turning its back on organisations that have been doing this work?
I attended the committee's debate on the greyhound Bill. I proposed amendments to try to stop exports of our greyhounds to countries where there was no animal welfare legislation, but I was told that it would be too difficult to implement. That is no reason not to legislate. Every Bill that appears before the House would be difficult to implement, but where there is a will, there is a way. It can be done.
I am not a member of this committee - I am substituting for Deputy Pringle. I ask the Chairman to set a date for the IGB to appear before the committee again, give the details of what it is setting out to do and show what actions have been taken in greater detail than was provided in its statement to us today.
I thank the Chairman for allowing me to contribute. I am not a member of this committee, although the Committee of Public Accounts will on Thursday discuss our work programme for after the summer. This fund is up for discussion, so we will see where we can fit that in after the break.
I will not harp on. I agree with the sentiments expressed by many of the contributors about the disgraceful scenes we saw on RTÉ's programme. I believe in fair play and we need RTÉ to clarify the question about allowing people to appear on the programme, but I think that RTÉ did the public a great service. I acknowledge the work of RTÉ and Mr. Conor Ryan. If ever an industry needed a watershed moment, this was it. I am someone who supports the greyhound industry. I support the many good people, particularly in my county, who are huge lovers of the industry, work hard and do things in the right way.
To save time, I will fire off a list of questions. Instead of engaging in a discussion, maybe the witnesses could take note of them and revert to the committee.
A report was commissioned and a company carried it out for €125,000. What company was that exactly and what similar reports had it carried out? According to the introductory statement, the company in its report also considered an area in respect of which it had not been commissioned. How did that happen, what were the report's terms of reference and was the company paid proportionately for a part of the report that it was never meant to do in the first place?
Surely that €125,000 was €150,000, €160,000 or €170,000. Surely the IGB did not pay for something, on behalf of the taxpayer, that it never asked for in the first place. I have an issue with the fact that this report was never sent to the Department, and that the Department did not receive it until recently, on 24 May. Did anyone in the Department, to the witnesses' knowledge, hear of or see the contents of this report? It is an extremely important question. In a recent parliamentary question, I asked for a list of all meetings between the chair, board members, or executives of Bord na gCon and Ministers or officials from the Department. I will not bore the committee with the full list, because it is public now, but it shows that 14 or 15 meetings were held between the time the report was finished and when the Department received it. In all that time, during those 14 or 15 meetings, nobody from the IGB said they had commissioned this report, which cost €125,000, that it said all of these things and that they were not accepting it. I have no issue with the board not wanting to accept the report, but I have an issue with the IGB spending €125,000 of taxpayers' money and not giving the report to its parent Department over the course of 14 or 15 meetings. That is incredible to me, and that question needs to be asked.
I refer to greyhound exports. Has the IGB ever paid, in any way, for board members to visit China, and if so, for what purpose? When did that happen, who went, and what was the cost?
I ask the witnesses to provide the committee with all funding requests the IGB has received from greyhound welfare organisations in the last three years, and to tell us what was done with them. Do they support the new greyhound adoption strategy recently brought forward in Tipperary?
There are issues with the current structure of the organisation. Does the IGB have a sales and marketing director, or a commercial director? What does the deputy CEO do? How much did it cost to run Bord na gCon in 2018 versus what it cost ten years ago?
I agree with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. There is a lot of talk about welfare now because there has to be if we want to save the industry. Where is the funding for the welfare pot going to come from? Is it going to come from breeders, from the IGB's overall budget of €16 million, or from both? Many of the breeders and owners watching this committee tonight want to know that because they are very concerned about the answer to that question.
Finally, the issue of drugs has been raised here before and the case was cited of a dog that tested positive for drugs three times. Dogs that test positive do not race, so how can somebody whose dog tests positive be allowed to remain involved in greyhound racing? When is that going to change? It affects how people think about this industry, to a disheartening and worrying level.
Before I move on to Deputy O'Keeffe, I want to clarify something in the interests of fairness to both witnesses and others, and because of difficulties faced in previous committees. The witnesses were invited here, last Wednesday week, to discuss issues raised in the RTÉ programme. That is the reason they are here.
Like my colleagues, I acknowledge that the greyhound industry is damaged. Perhaps supporters should be let out of their traps soon, for damage limitation purposes.
No one condones what was shown on the television, but there was a touch of "Reeling in the Years" to many of the clips. I came into the Dáil in 2016 and the greyhound industry has been under attack from day one. I have been supportive of it and I hope to still support it. There was a lackadaisical approach to the industry, and the legislation was not strong enough, but in fairness to the Minister, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, they sat down with our party colleagues and Deputy Cahill in particular, and thrashed out new legislation which I hope will alleviate the issues we saw and ensure they cannot be repeated or allowed occur again, once it is properly up and running.
We acknowledge that there are people in every sector, industry, or sport who give it a bad name, and they have to be culled. Trainers drugging dogs and being allowed off the hook were mentioned, and that must be stopped. Regarding animal welfare, the last time I saw something like one of the clips from the RTÉ programme was nearly 50 years ago when, as a child, I saw my grandfather getting a pig ready to be cut up in the backyard at home. What I saw the other night was in no way as bad as that, but it goes to show the horrors that happen abroad. How do we stop that? Perhaps some of my left-wing colleagues should talk to the authorities in those countries and tell them to get their houses in order regarding how they treat dogs that are no longer fit to race.
Much was made of the point that we have committed to giving over €16 million of taxpayers' money to the IGB annually, which I hope continues. However, I ask Mr. Nyhan to explain what we return we are getting from that investment. Is that €16 million going into a bottomless pit, or is something being generated from it, either directly or indirectly? Coming from a rural background, I can see the benefits of the greyhound industry in my own area in north Cork, as well as in east Cork where the Youghal Greyhound Track is being kept open. It is of benefit to local organisations and communities, which go to greyhound tracks and make tremendous amounts of money in fundraising. Those people would not go to the racing if they thought the dogs would end up like this, so we need to nip this in the bud.
I ask Mr. Nyhan to address the legislation that was brought in recently, the Greyhound Racing Act 2019. Does it need to be copper-fastened or amended again, in order to ensure the contents of the clips we were shown cannot be repeated?
I have some concerns regarding the disposal of greyhounds. I understand that there is an issue around category 1 disposals, as not all knackeries have that licence, and putting more of them in place would create further complications in the disposal of animals who have been put to sleep because the veterinary costs are astronomical. I hope we can move on from this debacle. Can Mr. Nyhan tell us whether the legislation we put in place has to be tightened up more, in order to ensure we do not have further repeats of what happened five or six years ago?
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
I will start with Deputy O'Keeffe's last question. Both I and the board think the legislation is perfectly adequate, and that it just needs to be implemented. The powers granted in that Act are sufficient to do what we have to do.
The €16.8 million budget, as the committee knows, is a percentage of the horse and greyhound fund, which is essentially funded from the bookmaking levy and redistributed. A report commissioned from the economist Mr. Jim Power and furnished to this committee in 2017 showed that something in the region of 5,000 people are directly employed in the greyhound industry in Ireland, and a further 12,000 are employed indirectly. Approximately 20,000 people derive economic benefit from the greyhound industry and it is worth roughly €300 million.
The contribution from the greyhound industry to PAYE and PRSI is approximately €12.5 million per annum. From a purely economic point of view, the €16.8 million is justified.
I will turn to the questions from Deputy Alan Kelly. Many of his questions request specific information that I do not have at my disposal today. We will get that information and we will forward it through the secretariat. Both he and Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan referred to a dog that was tested three times. There is a question of due process in that particular case, as it remains before the control committee of the IGB. We have no function in regard to that committee, which is entirely independent, and until it has adjudicated on the matter, it is not appropriate for me to comment. The matter has been before the High Court. It was dealt with there and it is now back before the committee. People are entitled to due process and it is not appropriate to comment further in respect of that particular case.
The welfare care fund will come from come from the industry and all who participate in it, namely, owners, trainers, breeders, those who attend dog racing and who go to our restaurants. That is the view of the membership. That is what they want to do. I have been at dog tracks for the past two weeks talking to people about this. In fact, I was at a meeting in Deputy Kelly's constituency in Thurles.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
That is the view of the people who were at the meeting. They want to be seen to address the issue and to be part of the solution.
Insofar as I know, regarding the organisation – we clarified the position precisely because there were questions – we do not currently have a sales and commercial manager. That function is being carried out by the chief executive at present. We do have a marketing manager. The deputy chief executive deputises for the chief executive when the chief executive is not available.
I will get the Deputy the information on the Preferred Results Limited report and forward it. I will also provide information on the meetings with the Department and the funding requests we have received and how we have dealt with them. The Tipperary adoption scheme to which the Deputy referred was launched this week so I do not think anyone has had a chance to consider it yet. Mr. Healy will deal with some of Deputy O'Sullivan's questions.
Mr. Denis Healy:
I take issue with the statement made by Deputy O'Sullivan that we have done little or nothing to enforce the existing regulations. In 2018 alone, 491 inspections were carried out in establishments where there were greyhounds. We have reports on each inspection. Where issues arose with the inspections, notices were served on people to improve conditions and where people failed to provide information they were also served with notices. Fixed penalty notices were also issued. At every racetrack, each night there is racing there could be ten races each night and 60 greyhounds racing. Each dog is weighed in and inspected by control stewards who are involved in animal welfare. There is a regulation whereby if a dog has lost or gained 3 lbs then questions are asked. If a greyhound is presented that is not fit for racing according to the view of the control steward, the veterinary surgeon who is on duty on the night is asked to examine the dog and it is not allowed to race. There is great oversight. If there are ten races then there are 60 examinations on a night. Like Mr. Nyhan, I will not comment on the specific case, which is ongoing.
As regards investigations of greyhounds going to Macau, I am only a year and three quarters in the system - I accept that is no excuse not to have an answer - but where information was received according to the Department's regulation, we followed it up to see if the dogs originated in Ireland and we interviewed people but we can only go so far. In fact, where the dogs are exported beyond the 12-month period, we are statute barred from doing anything. That said, the Deputy alluded to the export of greyhounds from Cork to China and them being stopped at Heathrow Airport. The export of any greyhounds out of this country is under the control of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We are not shirking our responsibility, but the Department carries out the examination and issues the certificates. Exports take place under its remit and if there are reasons, it can prevent exports. I am only a year and a half in the job but I know that the person who transported the dogs was brought before the head of regulation and was interviewed. I interviewed him personally. There was no legislative provision that would allow us to prosecute. There are conditions on his licence and he has been warned. He stated that it will never happen again. We did not do anything, but we did what we could within the regulations.
As regards the low volume of substances found, the laboratory in Limerick is accredited to international standards by the Irish National Accreditation Board. I will not call it a new machine because it is there since 2017. A total of €400,000 was spent on it. The machine is now capable of analysing to parts per trillion. We are a semi-State body and we are bound by national legislation. Under current legislation, if there is an adverse finding regarding a substance the control committee, which is an independent body, will decide whether the substance was performance enhancing or inhibiting at the level it was found. It is not just a case of finding a substance. The system might operate slightly differently in other jurisdictions, but that is how we operate under current legislation.
We are working with international bodies. The board has agreed with Australian greyhound racing authorities to partake in scientific trials on substances in order to be able to say that substances have a pharmacological effect at certain levels. We will be able to agree international standards. We are also going to have a similar agreement with the UK. When the agreement was put in place with the Australians, we agreed that not alone would the trials be on medicines, anti-doping and substances that affect performances but we would also look at welfare standards. That will be progress.
Regarding the low level of substances found, the equipment is capable of screening for tens of thousands of substances and, without labouring the point, many of the substances found are what we all take, namely, paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and ketoprofen. These are common or garden therapeutic medicines. Flunixin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. All but Flunixin are licensed as painkillers and anti-inflammatories for the treatment of greyhounds, or any dog that requires treatment, but they cannot be used on greyhounds close to a race. If we find them above certain levels, the cases are referred to the control committee for it to make the final decision.
The question is about the board and if the funding had ever been reduced. Were the inspections that Mr. Healy talked about unannounced or does Bord na gCon notify the owner before a kennel is inspected?
Mr. Denis Healy:
There can be a bit of both. I can find out for the Deputy but, obviously, if there is intelligence that has prompted an inspection, owners are never pre-warned. A large number of inspections are unannounced. Greyhound trainers are not very happy with that but they have got used to it. That is the standard to which we operate.
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
Funding has changed over the years. It has gone up and down and currently stands at €16.8 million. For clarity, we do not allow injured greyhounds to run and we do not allow substances to be given to allow injured greyhounds to run. If such a substance is detected, that is an adverse effect and it is reported.
A person's greyhounds were being exported and were stopped at Heathrow Airport. Why was that person not banned from greyhound racing? He has proven himself to be totally immune to animal welfare. I noted Bord na gCon placed conditions on his licence and so on but I do not understand why he was not banned from racing greyhounds. I know our guests do not want to comment on an individual case but surely imposing a ban would be a real indication that Bord na gCon was taking these matters seriously.
My final question is about giving money to the welfare groups which have been working for years now on rehoming greyhounds. They have been doing the work that Bord na gCon says it is going to do now. Why can the board not fund these groups, many of which are registered charities?
Mr. Denis Healy:
I do not have the facts but I am aware that we have given substantial amounts of money over the past two or three years to five, six or seven organisations that I could name. Substantial funding has been given, twice a year, towards acknowledging the fact that these organisations rehome greyhounds. We are delighted that they do that and we would certainly be in a poorer position if they did not do so. We are acknowledging those groups. Some of that funding was in the form of individual cheques in the amount of €5,000 which is not insubstantial. We have also provided funding towards the neutering, castrating or spaying, and vaccination of greyhounds to get them ready for a new home. Funding of up to €130 is available in each such case. Whether to increase that amount is currently under consideration because we are aware that the fees veterinarians charge are putting pressure on those organisations. We acknowledge what they do.
I was in the Chamber for a debate on the Mercosur deal. I thank our guests for attending. Many of us were not especially surprised at some of the practices we saw in the greyhound industry because we have been hearing for a while that there were issues. I will go through some of the details. The issue may already have been dealt with but I want to ask about the number of dogs that are bred and never run. The number of pups involved is considerable. Whose job is it to monitor that? Who is failing to do their job?
I also want to ask about the use of substances and drugs and the whole doping issue. We passed the Greyhound Racing Act in which we put tighter controls in place but all the controls in the world will only match up if people on the ground are prepared to implement them. Bord na gCon and everyone in the industry have a big job of work to do in trying to build confidence so that the general public, the taxpayers who are putting €16 million a year into this industry, can be confident that the industry is prepared to do its job. There was clear evidence in the programme that people in the industry are not doing their jobs.
On the export of greyhounds and dogs ending up in other countries, the programme showed a number of greyhounds in Pakistan, which had been advertised online for stud. They were still registered by the owner in Ireland. Has Bord na gCon followed up with the owner since the programme aired? What has been done in this case? Can our guests give an example of Bord na gCon taking the types of actions I expect it to take?
The programme also showed greyhounds being brought to an illegal or unregulated coursing event on an island. Has Bord na gCon any control over that? What element of control does it have in such circumstances? Are our guests aware that this sort of activity, while not common, is also taking place in other areas of the country?
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
I will start with the last of Deputy Kenny's points. Not wishing to shirk our responsibilities, that is a matter he will have to address to the Irish Coursing Club, whose representatives are present. That is exclusively within the remit of the ICC.
I gave figures relating to the dog pool and production of dogs earlier but it will be no harm if I repeat them. There are-----
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
This bears repeating. There are currently 3,600 dogs in the racing pool in Ireland. There were 2,344 litters in 2018 and a litter is accepted as being between five and six pups. Every year, 6,500 dogs are exported to England and approximately 2,000 dogs go coursing. We are rehoming between 1,100 and 1,200 dogs per annum. Those figures balance. We are producing the number of dogs we require for the industry. That is the current position and those are empirical facts. That was part of the reason we had a problem with the report produced by Preferred Results. We obviously monitor the number of dogs that are running and the number of litters. Allowing for the problems with traceability, which we have been addressing here for some time, there appears to be a balance between the number of dogs being produced and the number required. The stated aim of the Irish Greyhound Board is that no healthy dog should be euthanised and that remains the position. That is the gold standard.
Mr. Denis Healy:
More than 5,000 samples are taken annually in the greyhound industry, which works out at nearly 5% of dogs competing in races based on a figure of 93,000 race participants. A substantial percentage is being sampled, even if some of those dogs were sampled twice or three times. That is the case. I am not saying we are the best in the world but the number of samples taken for prohibited or controlled and therapeutic substances across all other sports in Ireland is either 968 or 689. That is the figure for the sampling of humans conducted by Sport Ireland in cycling, rugby, GAA, swimming and other sports. We are not the best in the world but we are taking what we believe to be a representative sample. We should bear in mind that some of those samples are taken out of competition, in circumstances where we have intelligence. More of those targeted tests are being done. All dogs in semi-finals and finals are tested and random sampling is done on race nights.
If there is suspicion at the end of a race that a dog has underperformed or overperformed, our control stewards and the racing manager can hold an inquiry, which is done. The instruction to them is that the dog is immediately kennelled and sampled after the race, and the dog's sample is analysed. We have found some substances there. It is a matter of our stewards being alert and trained to do the job, which they are doing. That is where we are on the doping and controls. The integrity of the sport is absolutely paramount. As was alluded to earlier, there are morning and other meetings, Sunday meetings in Mullingar and on Youghal track at night, that are streamed into bookies abroad, for which the Irish Greyhound Board is paid a fee. They are watching us like hawks, absolutely. If they get a sniff that there is a lack of integrity in the Irish greyhound industry, they will pull the plug because they will not be prepared to put up with gambles and that kind of thing.
How did RTÉ make the programme if everything is being done so well? There was an example on the programme of one breeder on whose premises a whole lot of illegal substances were found. He had won numerous races for years. If the greyhound board is doing such a good job, was it just one failing in one place and RTÉ was lucky enough to find it?
Mr. Frank Nyhan:
No. On that particular incident, the detection was brought about by the Irish Greyhound Board. It was the Irish Greyhound Board that drew the attention of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to those premises and it was part of the search group that uncovered those items on the premises. We are not a perfect industry. The programme was made because some people did some terrible things which needed to be highlighted. We accept that fully. All of us who love dogs were absolutely appalled with what we saw on that programme. Those sections of the programme did the public a service and we are not attempting in any way to resile from that fact. There were just some other issues in the programme which require clarification. We have had an opportunity to do so and as far as we are concerned, we have said what we have to say about that.
That completes the questions. I thank Mr. Nyhan and Mr. Healy for coming before the committee at reasonably short notice. I acknowledge that they might have preferred if their chief executive was here but it was important that we start this process. There are a couple of issues on which we will need clarification and we would appreciate that as soon as possible.